Monday, July 5, 2010

The Conundrum of Choice

I've been trying, for a couple of days now, to sort out in my head what it means to have "meaningful choice." I've been told that I have it, and that I should be willing to sacrifice some of it in the name of helping people who don't, but I must admit to being unable to create a coherent theory of how to determine what it is. I can create narratives in my head around the idea of having meaningful choices, or lacking one, but most simply lead to stereotypical dilemmas, where of the options presented, none is positive or desirable. While I understand that the lesser of two evils is still evil, the difference between being between a run-of-the-mill rock and hard place and lacking meaningful choices seems to be a subjective matter of opinions, rather than a test that can be applied to everyday circumstances to determine which ones meet the bar.

Complicating matters is that I'm also told that I lack meaningful choices in some areas, and the only help for that is the people who do have the meaningful choices to, once again, sacrifice some of them, this time on my behalf. Here, the issue is less one of definition than it is of entitlement. While I understand that my individual vote doesn't count for much in the grand scheme of things, I have never expected that it would. Part of the downside of living in a nation founded on a variation on the idea of majority rule is that it can suck to be in the minority.

So I understand that my own choices are constrained, and in some cases lacking. I also understand that in some cases, the culprit is myself - I'm unwilling to do the work or spend the money or otherwise do what needs to be done to make certain choices realistic. To be trivial about, I know exactly what I'd like out of a new car. And while it's nothing fancy, it's been some time since that sort of vehicle was commonly available. Obtaining one, therefore, would entail some serious, if straightforward, customization work - more than I'm willing to pay for. So that choice is unavailable to me, unless and until I decide that it worth ponying up the cash for it. I could complain that the marketplace isn't meeting my needs, but since I've been okay doing without for the past decade, such a stance seems disingenuous.

Of course, there are people in the world who would give a lot if that were the extent of their problems with choice. And I realize that I am part of their problem, mainly due to the choices that I make in my own life. And that's where I always come back to. There are people whose choices are part of my problems. I don't know if I've been successful at it, but I have attempted to be okay with the fact that sometimes I'm the windshield and sometimes, I'm the bug, without descending into passivity about the whole thing. And that means exercising the choices that I do have in the best way possible, always looking to expand those choices, and, at the same time, not becoming hung up on the choices that I don't have. But I wonder if my philosophizing around the idea of choice has allowed me to become a greater obstacle to the choices of others than I know or intend. While I'm certainly not aiming to garner an "agent of oppression" cred for myself, sometimes a personal understanding that something isn't a problem makes you part of the problem.

I don't know if any of this constitutes meaningful choice or not. To the degree that I understand the perception lack of same to be a symptom of learned helplessness, I will admit that I might simply have yet to learn that I'm helpless. Or perhaps, to be bothered by it. I am a single person on an entire planet. I do not expect my choices to be able to have much of an effect on anything other than myself, and sometimes, even that is dicey. To say that the world, as I understand it, is capricious is to over-anthropomorphize it, I think, but I do view it as outside of my control and vastly more powerful than I. Therefore, I have difficulty seeing myself as capable of doing anything that cannot be undone within seconds by forces outside of my control. And that leaves me back at attempting to answer the question of what constitutes a meaningful choice. And wondering if I'm spending too much time questioning, when there are actions that need to be taken.

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